The McAllen school district’s board of trustees this week approved an 11 percent raise for Superintendent James Ponce, boosting his salary by $22,500 to a total of $229,968 per year.
This is the second raise Ponce, who has been superintendent since 2009, has gotten in the past 10 months and the only raises he has gotten since taking the position. In December, the trustees gave him about a
7 percent increase largely to compensate him for lost insurance benefits. That took his salary up to $207,468.
Although we hold Ponce in high regard as a brilliant, dedicated, motivated, caring and extremely innovative educator who is moving the McAllen district in the right direction, we believe that an 11 percent raise given at this particular juncture is a well-intentioned mistake on the part of the school board.
Unfortunately, McAllen schools have a recent history of superintendents who have been plagued by controversy.
Ponce has been able to avoid controversy, enabling him to gain the cooperation necessary to begin putting into place his innovative visions that could bring significant future advances to the city’s schools.
However, we don’t think that an 11 percent raise — at a time when the area’s private and public sector employees are getting either no or only minimal pay increases — will sit well with the public and may cause dissension within in the school district’s ranks among teachers and staff. For this school year, teachers and librarians got 2.25 percent raises, an average of about $1,100. This, however, does not fully reflect the increases some teachers and staff received in the wake of a complex compensation overhaul done last year by the district.
In addition, it should be pointed out that even with the latest pay increase, Ponce is still far from being the highest paid area superintendent even though he oversees one of the Valley’s largest and most complex school districts. It is our feeling, however, that the pay disparity between what the McAllen superintendent is paid and what superintendents of the Valley’s other large districts make should have been addressed when Ponce was hired.
Some signs of possible dissension are already showing.
Reacting to the latest raise, Ruth Skow, president of the McAllen Federation of Teachers, Local 6329, told The Monitor that the district’s performance did not merit the increase and the amount of the raise was out of proportion with those received by the district’s employees.
“This is not going to go down well” with employees, she said.
To do what Ponce has set out to do in terms of improving the quality of education provided by McAllen schools will require an extraordinarily high level of cooperation from all those involved — teachers, staff, students, parents and the general public. Possibly crippling and unnecessary dissension is the last thing the superintendent needs at this point.
Unfortunately, the potential for damage has already been done and is not likely to be reversed. We can only hope that this well-intentioned mistake by the school board does not derail what Ponce has already put into motion or his visions for the future.